Watering Plants: The Ultimate Guide

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How to Water Your Perennials, Annual Flowers, Trees, and Shrubs 

Watering plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs is essential to keep them growing healthy and strong through every season. In this resource, we’ll cover everything you need to know about watering techniques and frequency to ensure a beautiful, lush landscape.

Best Watering Techniques

Did you know that there is a right way and a wrong way to water plants? First, let’s explain what conditions make plants thrive. 

Deep watering encourages roots to grow deeper, which enhances the plant’s stability and drought resistance. Shallow watering, on the other hand, can lead to shallow root growth which has the opposite effect. Shallow root systems make plants more susceptible to stress, which lessens their chances of thriving over time.

It’s also ideal to water plants in the morning, because it allows water to penetrate the soil throughout the day. This reduces the risk of fungal diseases. 

How to Water Plants Correctly

When you start to water, get the mulch or soil surrounding the plant damp first to break the surface tension and allow the water to soak into the soil. 

Should I use a hose or a watering can?

Hoses, when used with a nozzle or sprinkler attachment, offer the ability to cover larger areas evenly and can be adjusted to deliver a gentle spray that won’t disturb the soil or harm delicate plants. 

For deep watering, use a soaker hose or a hose-end bubbler, which allows water to seep slowly into the soil, reaching the roots of shrubs and trees without wastage. This method is particularly effective for deep-rooted plants, encouraging stronger and more resilient growth. 

Watering cans provide more control and precision, ideal for smaller garden areas or potted plants. When using a watering can, choose one with a long spout to direct water directly to the base of the plants and avoid wetting the foliage, which can lead to fungal diseases. For delicate seedlings, use a watering can with a rose attachment to mimic gentle rainfall. By using hoses and watering cans effectively, you can ensure that your plants receive the moisture they need at the roots where it counts the most, without excess runoff or evaporation.

Watering Mistakes to Avoid

Unless your plant varieties specifically call for it, avoid frequent and shallow watering that leaves root systems vulnerable to stress and drought. Watering in the late evening can leave foliage damp overnight and invite fungal diseases, and midday watering can lead to high evaporation and wasted water. Finally, avoid watering with a strong stream since it can erode soil, expose roots, and harm delicate young plants.

Watering Perennials

Perennials return each year, growing in size and stature; thus, understanding how to water them effectively is crucial for long-term success. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to watering perennials:

How often and how much to water perennial plants

In the first month after planting, water perennials twice per week. As a best practice, remove the nozzle from your garden hose and place it at the base of the plant. Turn on the water about halfway at the spigot and let it flow for one minute. Move the hose from plant to plant until all of your perennials receive a good soaking. 

After a month has passed since planting, you can decrease watering frequency to once per week using the same technique: one full minute of water flow from the hose with the tap turned halfway per plant.

Young plants still need water in the late fall and winter! If there is little rain or snow in the cold months, give young plants at least one long watering per week.

If the temperature climbs above 95°F, your plants are in full sun, or you have rock beds, you may need to add time (not frequency) to your watering sessions. If the soil is dry when you stick your finger 1” into the dirt, then your plants need more water! The reverse scenario applies to shaded or low areas — to reduce risk of overwatering, subtract time from each watering event but keep the same frequency.

Watering newly planted perennials vs. established perennials

Newly planted perennials need more frequent watering to establish roots, but once established (1–2 years after planting), perennial plants only require additional watering during drought. 

Low-maintenance perennials we recommend

For a beautiful space that’s easy to care for, consider hostas, daylilies, peonies, coneflowers, milkweed, and hardy geraniums. These plants require minimal care beyond proper watering and occasional fertilization.

Watering Annual Plants and Flowers

Annuals complete their life cycle in one growing season, from seed to flower to seed. They generally require more attention and maintenance than perennials, including more frequent watering.

How often and how much to water annuals

During hot and dry periods, most annuals need watering every day, especially those in pots or hanging baskets. Provide enough water to soak the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. Use a watering can or drip irrigation to direct water efficiently. Be sure to direct the water stream at the root of the plant where it’s needed most, avoiding overhead sprinkling that can leave foliage susceptible to fungus.

Low-maintenance annuals we recommend

Zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, vinca, and petunias are excellent for vibrant summer color with relatively low maintenance needs.

Watering Shrubs and Trees

Young trees and shrubs require regular watering when establishing their root systems, too. Follow the same frequency as new perennials after planting: water twice per week in the first month and once per week after that until well established. Because of their larger root systems, however, trees and shrubs need additional time per plant during watering sessions. Aim for two minutes per shrub and five minutes per tree, hand watering with your hose on half pressure at the base of the plant. 

After two years or so in the ground, trees and shrubs only require additional watering during drought.  

Signs of Underwatering

If the leaves on your plants are brown, wilty, dry, and crunchy, your plants are likely being underwatered. Completely dry soil around the base of the plant is also another telltale sign of underwatering.

What to do if you’ve underwatered your plants

Gradually increase water amounts to revive stressed plants without shocking their systems. Use our recommendations as a guide to get back on the proper schedule depending on the type of plant you’re looking to rescue. Don’t increase the frequency of watering sessions, simply increase their duration until your plant is back to full health again.

Signs of Overwatering

Overwatering can kill plants just as easily as underwatering, especially in the spring and fall seasons. Signs of overwatering include yellow or lime green leaves, fungus in the soil or on leaves and stems, black spots, and standing water around the base of the plant. 

What to do if you’ve overwatered your plants

First, reduce your watering schedule and allow the soil to dry out between waterings; check the moisture level of the soil by inserting a finger a few inches deep—if it feels damp, delay watering further. 

For potted plants, ensure that the pots have adequate drainage holes and consider repotting plants into fresh, well-draining soil to prevent future waterlogging. You may consider adding a layer of coarse material at the bottom of pots and containers to encourage better drainage. Pebbles, gravel, charcoal, coarse sand, and perlite are all good choices.

If the plant is severely affected, inspect the roots for rot, trimming away any blackened or mushy roots with sterile shears, and treat the remaining healthy roots with a fungicide to prevent further infection. Adjusting your watering practices and improving soil drainage are crucial steps to restoring the health of overwatered plants and ensuring their long-term vitality.

Unsure whether your plants are showing signs of overwatering or underwatering? Snap a photo and send it to us at info@elevate-outdoor.com and we’ll give you our expert opinion!

Recommended Tools for Forgetful Waterers

Life is busy, and most of us neglect our plants from time to time. Here are a few tips that can help if you’re a forgetful waterer:

  1. Set Calendar Alerts or Alarms: Use the calendar app on your smartphone to set recurring alarms or reminders to water your plants. Align these alerts with the specific watering needs of different plants to ensure each receives attention when needed.
  2. Use Watering Apps: There are several mobile apps designed specifically for plant care that can remind you to water your plants. These apps often provide additional care tips and can be customized according to the type of plants you have.
  3. Employ Self-Watering Systems: Consider investing in self-watering pots or globes that can reduce the frequency of manual watering. These systems are especially useful for consistent moisture delivery and are ideal for busy or forgetful plant owners!
  4. Visual Reminders: Place a small whiteboard or notepad in a visible area where you frequently spend time, such as the kitchen or by your desk, and note down watering schedules. Checking off or updating this list can help keep plant care top of mind.
  5. Incorporate Plant Care into Routine Activities: Tie your watering schedule to other regular activities, such as having your morning coffee or brushing your teeth. Making plant care part of your daily routine can help form a habit, reducing your chances of forgetting.

More Watering Resources

Easy Chart for Watering Frequency & Duration

Check out this quick visual aid for how often and how much to water perennials, shrubs, and trees.


Bookmark this link for quick access to our watering instructions graphic!

Watch Our Video to See Proper Watering Technique in Action

In this video, Elevate Outdoor designer Mark demonstrates proper watering techniques for perennials, shrubs, and trees.

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